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New Ogden exhibit features artist some presumed dead

Arthur Kern Sculpture (FOX 8 Photo) Arthur Kern Sculpture (FOX 8 Photo)

You can now see sculptures that were once hidden away in a private home for more than two decades. A New Orleans artist some presumed was dead has a new exhibit.

“I wondered all my life why I did art. It was just something I did. Seems like I was looking for something. To learn something,” said 84 year-old Arthur Kern.

He wasn't interested in the spotlight.

“I can do without all the peripheral stuff,” he said. “I can do without the openings and parties and the rest of it. I tend to be a loner, I suppose.”

“Making a sculpture was an inquiry, a quest to find some kind of insight - not to sell it, to become famous by it - but as soon as he finished a sculpture that was the end of it and he moved on to the next one,” said John Berendt.

Berendt is just as interested in Kern's story as he is in the artist's work. Berendt said,

“As soon as I walked in I was just bowled over by these beautiful sculptures,” he said.

The “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil" author brought Kern's collection to the attention of the Ogden Museum.

“The personal story of a man who became a hermit, but was he passionate about his art. That's all he really cared about - his art and his family,” Berendt said.

Kern has a way of making the ordinary extraordinary, from his choice of medium to the household items he uses to make his homemade tools. The sculptures are made of poly resin commonly known as fiberglass.

“I think making sculpture expresses in an outward image some inner meaning,” said Kern.

He never worked with assistants and finds other people in the studio distracting.

“The creative voices are sometimes very subtle and soft, and you have to be ready to listen to them,” Kern said.

“After he retired in 1996, he dropped out. He was a private person. He didn't want to be seen in the art world,” said Berendt.

So much so that some thought he had died.

“I didn't mind that,” Kern said. “It gave me a lot of peace and quiet to do what I wanted to do over the years without any disturbances, so it was ok with me.”

And now that people know he's still around?

“I don't know what,” Kern said with a sigh. “Maybe I'll have to die again.”

The retired Tulane art professor began his career with drawing and painting. He's spent the last 20 years working on sculptures at his home. 

Arthur Kern: The Surreal World of a Reclusive Sculptor is on display at the Ogden Museum through July 17. The museum holds the official opening reception Thursday evening along with its Ogden After Dark series.

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